Modern Big Cat Species May Go Extinct the Same Way Sabre-Toothed Tigers Did

Fagjun | Published 2017-05-12 22:52

Two big cat species—the African lion and the Sunda clouded leopard—are facing the same threats that drove Ice Age big cats to extinction.

Researchers discovered that loss of prey contributed to the extinction of the cave and American lions, the American cheetah, and four types of saber-toothed tigers. These species disappeared as the Ice Age ended, like many other species at the time. If these big cats had survived to the present day, only a quarter of their prey would still be available in their natural habitats. Most of their prey had gone extinct, partly due to human intervention.

Now, the African lion and the Sunda clouded leopard are facing the same loss of prey that Ice Age big cats faced. The question is, will modern big cats be able to overcome threats and pressures that killed off the Ice Age big cats?

Big Cat Species, Old and Modern

African lions not only need to contend with habitat loss and poachers, they also need to deal with dwindling food sources.

Things aren't looking so good for the big cats we have today. Only 39% of the African lion's prey and 37% of the Sunda clouded leopard's prey still remain. These low numbers are quite worrying. Researchers say that the trend of dwindling prey species that affected big cats in the Ice Age is still going on today.

Loss of prey isn't the only thing that modern big cat species need to contend with. Things like habitat loss and conflicts with humans are factors that contribute to the decline of today's big cats. Scientists believe that the continuing trend of prey loss puts the African lion and the Sunda clouded leopard at high risk of extinction. Eventually, if this trend continues, these big cats may go extinct like their Ice Age counterparts did.

The African lion and Sunda clouded leopard aren't the only ones that loss of prey is putting at risk. A decrease in prey species in areas where tigers and cheetahs live is also putting these other big cats in danger of extinction.

Saving Our Big Cats

Sunda clouded leopards live on two Indonesian islands: Borneo and Sumatra.
[Photo by Christian Sperka]

Conservation efforts for big cat species should thus also take the survival of prey species into account. Researchers say that there are lessons to be gleaned from the extinction events of of the late Pleistocene, which saw the disappearance of several species.

The governments of countries in which big cats are facing numerous threats to their survival need to step up their conservation efforts. Seeing as we already know what contributed to the extinction of saber-toothed tigers, cave and American lions, and American cheetahs, we have a good chance of saving the big cat species we still have today.

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